Digital Transformation – The Case of SNCF

Faced with a significant backlog in the adoption of digital tools, SNCF made a decisive 90-degree turn in 2015, prompted by the impending arrival of competition in the sector.

The leadership fully recognized the stakes at hand. This was nothing less than a complete reinvention of the customer experience as well as the internal processes of the organization. Since then, SNCF has particularly focused on open data, enhancing services for users, predictive maintenance, and training teams on new tools.

However, this monumental project of transformation has not been without its pitfalls. This was evident with the chaotic launch in 2022 of the SNCF Connect app, which was intended to streamline and enrich the customer journey. Behind this hiccup lies the inherent difficulty of any transition of such magnitude, both technological and cultural.

The Challenge: An Unloved Company Behind the Times

Before embarking on its digital pivot in 2015, SNCF suffered from a severely tarnished image among rail users. Frequent delays, a lack of information during disruptions, and sometimes subpar comfort levels were common grievances.

In terms of digitalization, SNCF was also markedly behind its European counterparts. Public access to data was very limited, the mobile app was basic and not user-friendly, and there was a notable absence of connected devices in trains and stations.

Worse still, at a time when 5G was becoming mainstream, many lines didn’t even have proper WiFi or 4G access—unthinkable for today’s hyper-connected travelers!

This technological stagnation was partly due to the monopoly SNCF enjoyed on the national rail network. Without competition, the public enterprise had little incentive to drastically improve its services and infrastructure.

However, the situation changed radically in 2007 when the European Union ratified the opening up of passenger rail transport to competition—a deadline eventually set for December 2023 for national commercial lines.

Thus, to maintain its market share against new entrants, SNCF had no choice but to undergo a significant digital transformation. The first milestones of this ambitious strategy were laid in 2015. Let’s now look at the solutions implemented to embrace this technological turn.

Implemented Solutions for Embracing the Digital Shift

Open Data

SNCF quickly capitalized on open data, providing the public with access to detailed datasets. Thanks to real-time updates, everyone can now access a wealth of information about train operations: theoretical and live schedules, punctuality rates, seat availability, train compositions, and more.

This data availability enables the development of innovative services by startups, such as route calculators that consider delay probabilities and simulators for predicting train occupancy levels.

Services for Users

In terms of passenger services, SNCF has significantly intensified its efforts in recent years. In 2022, it launched SNCF Connect, a comprehensive app incorporating all the expected functionalities: trip planning, reservations, traffic information, and digital diversions during disruptions.

Aware that many still prefer cars for daily commutes, SNCF also entered a strategic partnership with BlaBlaCar in 2015. The goal is to eventually offer a combined train + carpooling service to attract new travelers.

By leveraging the technological expertise of this French gem and its broad user community, SNCF can extend its network into areas less well-served by rail.

Additionally, a pilot project will soon equip all TGV trains with 5G coverage.

Predictive Maintenance

The enhancement of traffic flow is also tied to a broader initiative for optimizing maintenance. Sensors, IoT, digital twins, artificial intelligence… SNCF aims to utilize the latest technological advances in this area.

With these cutting-edge tools, breakdowns are better anticipated, repair operations are more targeted, and the risk of delays is significantly reduced.

Training and Supporting Teams

Digital transformation fundamentally relies on team buy-in; this is why SNCF has implemented massive training and awareness programs related to digital tools and methods. The goal is to facilitate their adoption by railway workers, enabling them to derive maximum benefit in their daily work.

Customized programs have been developed for various professions within the company, including train operation, station management, maintenance, and customer service. The successful digitalization of the company necessarily involves upskilling its workforce to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s railway industry.

The Rocky Launch of SNCF Connect

The turbulent launch of the SNCF Connect app in January 2022 underscored the challenges of executing a digital transformation of such magnitude.

Plagued by repeated bugs, missing functionalities, and interminable loading times, SNCF Connect was quickly criticized for its numerous technical and ergonomic failures. This failure was particularly bitter given that the new unified app was intended to be simpler than the previous system, which consisted of six distinct components.

Several factors contributed to this debacle. First, the very tight schedule imposed by management did not allow sufficient time for technical teams to identify flaws and test the system’s robustness on a large scale.

Additionally, the failure to involve railway workers and users in the app’s development led to a product that was out of touch with the realities on the ground.

Although many issues have since been resolved through updates, this mishap serves as a reminder, if one were needed, that digital transformation requires pragmatism and humility. Scrum, UX, and other agile methodologies are essential in a shifting sector.

SNCF’s Committed March Towards Technological Transformation

Thus, SNCF has embarked on a forced march into a profound technological transformation to pull itself out of the rut. This extensive project, still underway, involves every level of this massive structure, from management strategy to the optimization of each train.

From the systematic adoption of open data to predictive maintenance and the latest customer relationship innovations, SNCF now possesses significant advantages to face competition and attract tomorrow’s hyper-connected travelers seeking intermodality.

The example of SNCF demonstrates how crucial digital transformation can be in enhancing an organization’s performance.

Accélérez votre transition numérique grâce aux solutions d'adoption digitale de Knowmore !

Chez Knowmore, nous sommes convaincus que ce processus requiert une stratégie sur-mesure et l’adhésion de tous les collaborateurs. C’est pourquoi nous avons développé des plateformes exclusives d’adoption digitale permettant de former et d’accompagner efficacement les équipes à chaque étape du changement. 

Quels que soient votre secteur et vos enjeux business, nos experts sont à votre disposition pour vous conseiller et vous fournir les solutions adéquates afin de réussir votre transition technologique.

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